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Issue 606

09/20/2012 at 4:59pm

Michael BeckerBecker Sues Fire District and Union

Former Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Chief Michael Becker filed a lawsuit on August 21, 2012 in Lee County Circuit Court against the Fort Myers Beach Fire District, International Association of Firefighters (national), IAFF Local 1826 (Lee County), Troy Mesick, Walt Stevens and Sadie Bynum. The complaint includes seven counts including libel and violation of Becker's rights in the handling of his departure from the District in March 2012. He asks for damages that exceed $15,000.

Mesick is the Vice-President of IAFF Local 1826 and the District 3 representative in the Fort Myers Beach District. Stevens is the President of IAFF Local 1826 and Bynum is the woman who was allegedly romantically involved with Becker and who filed a complaint against Becker in February prior to his exit from the Fort Myers Beach District. At that time she was employed by Lee County as a County Emergency Management Services Coordinator and the County CERT Program Coordinator.

Becker's Resignation

Becker submitted his resignation on March 12, 2012 effective June 19, 2012 as per the 90-day requirement in his contract. The Board then opted to relieve him of his District duties immediately, another option in his contract.

Bynum's February 27th complaint provided to the Fire Board alleged a romantic relationship of nine months with Becker while he was married. She claimed he told her he was single. She accused Becker of misconduct and violating District policies including use of District equipment, funds and programs to maintain his relationship with her. She also alleged that she was threatened, harassed and stalked by Becker's wife, leading to Bynum filing a formal police complaint in January 2012, citing fear for herself and her and Becker's unborn child. She claimed that she had ended the relationship in early February.

On accepting Becker's resignation in March, the Board tabled an investigation into Bynum's allegations noting that an investigation would be cost prohibitive, as Becker would be leaving the District.

Becker's Lawsuit

According to Becker's August 21st lawsuit obtained from the Lee County Clerk of Court, he alleges that his departure was "forced” after IAFF representatives reacted to his refusal to be influenced during a Formal Hearing by disseminating a document containing false statements about his affair with Bynum.

According to the complaint, Becker claimed there were 10 firefighters, including Mesick who did not meet the 2011 American Heart Association and District training standards by the deadline of August 29, 2011.

Two days before the deadline one of the ten firefighters asked Becker to pre-approve a course being offered by a Lee County EMS employee and he declined citing lack of time. The ten firefighters later presented American Heart Association cards to the District. In the suit, Becker questions the method by which they obtained their AHA cards.

The complaint states, "Allowing these noncompliant firefighters to continue working without the appropriate courses created an imminent and present danger as they would be transporting patients without the proper training required at that time by the District and potentially the requirements of the AHA. This could lead to potential liability for the District…”

The suit alleges "Mesick, in particular, had many issues during his employment with the District regarding insubordination, quality assurance investigations, and incompetent treatment of patients in transport.”

A Formal Hearing was set for February 29, 2012 to be presided over by the Fire Chief per District rules.

In the suit, Becker alleges that from November 2011 to January 2012, he had an extramarital affair with Bynum. The suit claims that when Becker broke things off and reconciled with his wife, Bynum "went on a mission to try and convince Becker that he should leave his wife and remain with her.”

Becker's wife's attorney claims to have received a phone call from Bynum on February 16, 2012 claiming that she was going after Becker's job by contacting the IAFF Local 1826.

Two days before the hearing, Bynum filed a written complaint with IAFF Local 1826 disclosing that she a) had a nine-month extramarital affair with Becker, b) she was pregnant with his child; c) was contacted by Becker on his work cell phone and/or d) had intimate relations with Becker in his office during work hours.

Becker's lawsuit states that Mesick and Stevens told Becker "that they were going to ‘destroy him'” if he didn't give the ten firefighters a simple counseling statement prior to the formal hearing. A counseling statement is a formal write-up and one of the least forms of punishment. Some of the ten firefighters were facing potential termination, including Mesick due to prior disciplinary history.

During the formal hearing on February 29th, the Assistant Chief and District Labor Attorney Nik Joushi presented their case against the firefighters. IAFF Local 1826 began their defense by trying to call Becker, who was presiding over the hearing, to testify. Becker denied the request.

The suit alleges that at this point in the hearing, Stevens and Mesick began handing out copies of a letter from Bynum detailing her affair with Becker. No other evidence or witnesses for the firefighter's defense were presented. Becker suspended the hearing and asked that all parties file briefs by March 6, 2012 prior to an official decision being made. Becker gave the 2-page Bynum letter to the Fire Commissioners as it was used to attempt to dictate Becker's decision at the hearing.

The suit claims that after the hearing Stevens and Mesick again demanded that Becker's decision be a simple counseling statement or a 100 page document detailing Becker and Bynum's affair would be sent to local news outlets, the Fire Board and Lee County officials.

In early March 2012, the lawsuit claims, Mesick, Stevens or someone at their direction did disseminate the 100-page document detailing Becker and Bynum's affair to local news outlets, the Fire Board and others.

Becker alleges he was then "‘forced' to resign "under duress” from his position prior to rendering a decision on the formal hearing and was placed on three month administrative leave.”

In June, Becker attempted to rescind his resignation by written letter to Fire Board Attorney Richard Pringle but it was not accepted.

Becker's August 21st complaint includes one count of libel against Bynum for making false statements to Mesick and Mike Mason of Fox 4 News plus another count of libel against the IAFF, Mesick and Stevens for publishing the 100 page document detailing the affair as well as threatening Becker and attempting to leverage the formal hearing decision.

The lawsuit includes five counts against the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District including Breach of Contract and Violation of the Firefighter's Bill of Rights, Rules & Regulations of the District, State Whistleblower's Act and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

At their September Board Meeting, Board Attorney Richard Pringle informed the Board that the District's insurance carrier had been notified and indicated that they would provide an attorney to defend the Board against this lawsuit.

According to Fire District officials the administrative hearing for the ten firefighters at the heart of Becker's complaint, has been held in abeyance because District policies require the Assistant Chief to investigate the complaint and the Chief to preside at the hearing. At this point former Assistant Chief Darren White is now Fire Chief and cannot preside over this hearing.

Missy Layfield